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Rewarding and retaining Gen Z

In a rapidly changing world of work, the insurance industry needs to be mindful of the different expectations of younger recruits and be prepared to adapt to a new ways of thinking

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The world of work is changing dramatically. As it does so, the expectations of new staff are changing too and, along with their goals and version of normality, are different to what went before.

Those graduating this year and over the next few years – dubbed ‘Generation Z’ – will have already experienced enforced remote working conditions, as universities have been compelled to move to online lectures and reduced contact between educators and students.

Their values have been influenced by protests against climate change and in support of racial and gender equality, and they are likely to be more aware of their mental health than previous generations.

So what does this mean for attracting and retaining young talent?

New flexibilities

Remote working is widely expected to become the new norm for a large proportion of the workforce, with many people having transitioned relatively easily to a home environment during the pandemic.

Even before Covid-19 forced nationwide lockdowns in many countries, flexible working was becoming an expectation. A 2019 survey by the Workforce Institute found a third of Generation Z respondents would “never tolerate” forced inflexibility regarding working hours or vacation days.

While some social commentators have dismissed these expectations as unrealistic and even over-privileged, Dominic Morton, director of Hays Insurance, says employers should accept this generational difference and take it seriously.

“Largely as a result of the pandemic, agile working has shifted from a benefit to an expected way of working,” he says. “Promoting flexible hours, remote working capabilities and the importance of work-life balance is likely to better reflect Gen Z’s expectations of the world of work and keep them engaged with your organisation.”

But while new employees may be accustomed to remote working, it does not mean it is comfortable for them. According to Laura Drabik, chief evangelist at P&C tech company Guidewire Software, insurers should “think carefully” about how to best help staff work from home.

“If insurers save on the rent and bills by reducing office space, there is a strong argument that they should pass some of this saving on to employees so they can equip themselves properly to work wherever they are,” she says.

Fresh incentives

Something new for insurance: younger workers are less likely to stay at a company for more than a few years. Almost a third (31%) of millennials in a recent Deloitte survey said they were likely to leave their current job within the next two years, while half of Generation Z respondents said the same.

Simply paying more money will only go so far – and in an uncertain economic environment, might not be a realistic or sustainable option. Instead, other benefits such as training can be a “key retention tool”, Morton points out.

“This demographic prioritises their professional development perhaps more than any other age group and [they] thrive in cultures where upskilling and professional development is prioritised,” Morton explains.

Professional development can also help employers fill skills gaps. Hays research shows that accessing the right skills is an issue across industries, with only a third (32 percent) of respondents to a recent employer survey saying they have full access to the skills they need.

Alexandra Foster, director of insurance, wealth management and financial services at BT, adds that a firm’s culture is “arguably the most significant factor” in retaining skilled employees.

“A supportive and nurturing culture allowing for long-term career development will attract new employees looking to follow senior members of staff and take advantage of the multiple opportunities a large and diverse insurer can offer during their working life,” she argues.

As well as training opportunities and financial incentives, insurers and reinsurers should look to get creative with rewards. Suggestions from Hays’ Morton include company socials – pandemic measures permitting – free or subsidised fitness classes or volunteering opportunities, perhaps linked to a company foundation or associated charity.

Morton also recommends regular staff surveys to ensure benefits packages reflect the needs and desires of the workforce.

Wellbeing

The Covid-19 pandemic and the associated societal changes it has brought have undoubtedly taken a toll on the wellbeing of many people. A survey published in June by UK mental health charity Mind found that 60% of respondents in England reported their mental health had deteriorated during lockdown.

In an often stressful sector like financial services, it is important that insurance companies take their staff’s wellbeing seriously.

Morton recommends that insurers look at including employee assistance programmes, wellbeing training and counselling within benefits packages “to ensure staff have the resources they need to feel supported at work”.

Nearly half (45%) of 18-24-year-olds felt job stress had a direct impact on their personal relationships, according to research by mindfulness app Headspace. Estela Weinmann, director of communications and PR at the company, says leaders should prioritise creating “working environments that nurture employee wellbeing in a holistic manner, using evidence-based programmes that can help relieve stress and anxiety”.

The future

This year has underscored the importance of balancing work with family and other commitments, while also making time for relaxation. When the boundary between work in home is so blurred, new staff can struggle to adapt – particularly without the in-person support of office colleagues.

“One way in which insurers can help new employees navigate these challenges is to teach them that it’s okay to try new things and fail,” says BT’s Foster. “Making mistakes is all part of the learning journey and there are so many news things to take on board when you start your first job.”

Whatever the future of the workplace may hold, insurers eager to attract and retain the best young staff must be prepared to adapt to a fresh way of thinking and working – just as their new recruits will.

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